Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Skid Mark, or, What Bike Was That?


So, there I was, doing a little mountain biking and, at the time, in the midst of a long gradual climb. All of a sudden another rider comes into view heading down in the opposite direction. Rounding a bend in the road ahead and as natural as a wheel spinning, he lays down a smooth skid in the decomposed granite surface. We give the quick cyclist nod of recognition in passing, and continue on in our own directions. I take note of another skid being applied behind me, but grind away without a second thought. As I climb ever upward I notice that each of the turns, each bend around which the road momentarily disappears, is decorated with a similar mark rubbed into its surface.

As I am apt to do, I engage in a little running conversation in my head, talking with a group of guys about this rider up in the hills, who would skid his way around each turn. I couldn't say I knew him, or even remember seeing him before and so, for obvious reasons, I started referring to him as Skid Mark. Of course everyone is trying to figure out who he is. They press me for a better description, but all I can say is that he was kind of old school looking, whatever that is. What about his bike, they ask? What was he riding? In a rather stuttering confession I have to admit that I do not have a clue.

It was then I realized that something, at some undefined point in time, had changed in the way I see other riders. Or, more likely, it was a gradual shift. It used to be that I could name the bikes that each of my friends rode. I could recognize familiar strangers by their bikes, as we all jockeyed for position in the peloton. I might not have known them, but I knew what bike they rode. These days, it seems, I can't connect any more than a handful of bikes and riders. I don't know, maybe it has been a slow realization that the bike doesn't matter as much as the rider - ungh, nearly got finger paralysis clacking the keys on that sentence - seriously though, right, it's not the bike you ride that is important. It is the simple fact that you are riding that matters. 

I am not sure how this realization changed over time; age? Maybe. Fundamental shift in the perception of what is important? Maybe. Maybe people started changing bikes too frequently for me to keep track. Maybe. Could be I just need to focus more, pay closer attention to that most basic connection - bike and rider. In the midst of the peloton, where riders are constantly flashing in and out of our lines of sight, we need to be able to quickly decipher bits of information. Two things immediately stand out at a short glance - the kit riders wear, and the bikes they ride. After a while you will recognize riders for themselves, or the way they ride, little nuances in riding style, the way they sit their bike, that sort of stuff, but initially it is kit and bike.

In the grand scheme of things is this a big deal? Probably not. I can't have a conversation with a bike, a bike won't be reading this post, or any other on this blog. But connecting riders to their bikes does contribute to a more complete picture, adds another level of depth to what ever story is being told. If not for Skid Mark, and my subsequent self-conversation regarding him, I likely would never have realized what was missing from my cycling life. So, if the next time you see me on the road, or trail, and I seem preoccupied you'll know why; I've got some catching up to do.

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